Posted on: 09/02/2016

Ashish Desai of 99designs

Ashish Desai

Chief Product Officer - 99designs


Podcast Summary

In this episode, Ashish talks about how a failed Internet venture (with me :)) helped him recognize the opportunity at 99designs. He talks about managing a development team on two different continents and how 99designs' Australian culture helps the team focus on the future and improvement.

Podcast Transcript

Scott Orn:

Welcome to the Founders and Friends Podcast with Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. As part of our rebrand and moving all the podcast over to the Kruze Consulting website, we’re doing a best-of series. This episode is with Ashish Desai of 99designs. Ashish is an old friend. One of the best product people in the Valley and this was just a great podcast. 99designs is just a fantastic company and I think you’ll get a lot of good pointers from this plus a bunch of laughs. Hope you enjoy. Welcome to the One California, Mr. Ashish Desai of 99designs. Great to have you here.

Ashish Desai:

Thank you Scott. Great to be here.

Scott Orn:

So Ashish runs … is it fair to say, you just run product, right? Is that like your title?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I’d say so.

Scott Orn:

And you know, I love 99designs. It’s one of the reasons I want to have you on. It’s a really great contest site for running designs for figuring out your designs. So you basically run a contest but maybe spend a minute talking about what 99designs really is.

Ashish Desai:

Sure. Well actually, the interesting thing is that like I think 99designs is more than that but I think this is a very interesting …

Scott Orn:

Do tell.

Ashish Desai:

Problem that we have. Or not problem but it’s great because I think we’re most well-known for our contest and that’s where we started. But we’re actually I think you know, a much bigger thing than that. We’re a marketplace for great design at affordable prices really at the end of the day. But we do that in a variety of ways and contest is by far our largest product and kind of how we started. But really we’re about connecting designers and clients.

Scott Orn:

Yeah because I’ve gone on the site before. I didn’t want to run a contest. I basically just needed a designer and there’s like this … I forgot what it’s called. You probably know but you click on one tab and it’s like contact the designer directly and it’s pretty cool because you can actually see people’s presentations and what they’ve done.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. So that’s our new discover feature which I mean it’s funny right? Because we have just been so successful with contest and you know, that’s what everyone knows us for and you know, it’s like I mean it’s not really a problem because you know, we’ve been very successful and that’s where our word of mouth comes from but the problem is, when we say [inaudible 00:02:05], you know, we’ve always thought of contest is just the first step. We connect you with someone and by the way, we have a whole discover platform. You can see all the great designs that are happening on our platform and if you just want to work with someone directly, we’re happy for that.

Scott Orn:

It’s kind of like the eBay Buy-It-Now feature.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Exactly.

Scott Orn:

Now I’m dating myself because this is like early 2000’s. You have to like run a contest on eBay to sell something or buy something and then one day, someone … maybe Matt Madrigal is listening. He used to work at eBay to figure this out. They’re like, hey, let’s do a Buy-It-Now. People actually want to buy something right now. Let’s take their money. And it feels like you guys did that like a year ago or what? Two years ago?

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. Yeah. I mean literally we have our one-to-one projects. We’re not really great at naming. So we’re still working on that. But the idea is you know, you can directly work with someone and internally, we refer to that as Buy-It-Now. It’s this whole idea that … exactly. I mean we’ve looked at eBay a lot obviously. We even have you know, some former great people from eBay that are now at the company but yeah. It’s exactly the case that we’re in the broader business of connecting designers and clients. Not just about contest or …

Scott Orn:

Yeah. It’s an awesome site. Like it surprises me that it’s almost like one of those things where like wow, it took that long for the internet to figure this out but then 99designs figured it out. So dude, tell me like … we go way back. We’re friends in business school and like when you’re looking at 99designs, like what did you … before joining like what did you see? Like what attracted you to the company?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I mean actually, it’s great that you brought up our history because I think that was one of my key reasons for joining. So Love Bug which was our great adventure several several years ago …

Scott Orn:

That was a dating app that Ashish and I and Bryant Lee were working on. I’ll tell more about that later.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

To be continued.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Fail fast, right? So anyway, you know, I don’t know if you recall but we were able to you know, build a prototype very quickly. We were able to you know, come up with all kinds of great ideas but the problem was, when we got to the design phase, none of us were designers and we ended up using a friend of a friend and not that their design work was bad but you know, we felt like first of all, we couldn’t afford it, right? And secondly …

Scott Orn:

We didn’t really know who to talk to. We didn’t know how to find someone.

Ashish Desai:

We didn’t know who to talk to and we just found somebody who you know, presented us a design that they really liked but we didn’t necessarily feel was exactly what we wanted but we just had to kind of go with it because you know, frankly we couldn’t afford any more money. And so when I was … fast forward a few years later, I was doing another side project just for fun and had gotten basically to the same stage where I was like, god, I need to get this design properly so it doesn’t look like ass.

Scott Orn:

So that’s how you … oh my god. That’s crazy. So out of pure need basically.

Ashish Desai:

So it was actually very serendipitous. So like at the same time, I was starting to look for another opportunity for my fulltime work as well. And a recruiter reached out to me and was like, hey, like this company 99designs, this is what they do. They connect people and I was like, oh my god. This solves my biggest pain point.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. That’s the best sign of a good company too, right?

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. And then you know, then talking to people like I’ve always feel like in my resume, I’m all over the map, right? But what actually holds …

Scott Orn:

In a good way.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. What holds it together …

Scott Orn:

You’re like a wild mustang. Hard to pull you down.

Ashish Desai:

What holds it all together …

Scott Orn:

He can’t be corralled.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. Something like that. What I hope holds it all together is just that we’re … that I’m always looking for working with really smart people. Ideally, something that resonates with me or I can see how it resonates with others and it drives a real need. And that’s how I felt 99designs was exactly that. And yeah. I mean look, it’s been awesome. They were super successful right out of the gate. I mean you mentioned like it should’ve been solved. This actually was a very organic process. Like we came out of forums like they were developer and designer forums on a site called SitePoint that anyone that’s a designer or developer would know that it’s a great education site for them. And this was literally happening, they started this idea of designer ping pong. It was basically this idea that …

Scott Orn:

Designers should work more closely with developers something like that?

Ashish Desai:

It’s actually just for fun. Designers were just competing. But completely for fun. And then at some point …

Scott Orn:

Oh no way. Like it’s almost like out in the half-pipe skateboarding against each other? Something like that.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Exactly. Like I’m just learning and I want to play around and here’s like a fake brief and you know, let’s play around. And then one of the developers saw this happening on the designer forum and was like, oh interesting. I just got a client that they’re doing a web design or whatever like I don’t know how to design it. What if I actually posted you guys a real brief and I’ll pay whoever wins?

Scott Orn:

Oh my God. Super organic. Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

So this was happening … and it was just happening in forums. Like in a terrible interface, no payment, all this stuff. And then the funny thing is the whole thing started with a SitePoint folk being like, this is really cluttering up our forums. So let’s add some friction to this. Let’s make them pay and all this stuff and then suddenly like you know, people were paying. And we’re like, wait a second. And I wasn’t there at the time. I joined several years later but I mean, an amazing story. It being completely organic and this entire business coming out of things that were already happening.

Scott Orn:

Internet at its best. So wasn’t the company started like in Australia or something like that?

Ashish Desai:

It was. Yeah. I mean so for several years until we took funding here in the Valley, the headquarters were in Australia and still we now have some offices across the world but our two biggest offices are here and now Oakland.

Scott Orn:

Oh no way.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah we just moved to Oakland from San Francisco.

Scott Orn:

Ashish is a proud owner of a new house in Oakland. What a coincidence.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I’ve gone all-in on Auckland.

Scott Orn:

You’re not wearing like an ironic trucker hat or anything like that?

Ashish Desai:

No.

Scott Orn:

Not yet.

Ashish Desai:

It’s under this shirt. But our biggest offices are in Oakland and still in Melbourne. So most of our development still happens there. Although we’ve started to build a team here as well.

Scott Orn:

So you’re like head of products right? So this is kind of like a company question but like organizational question, like how do you like manage a multi-continent development team? And the hours are pretty … we actually have, Kruze Consulting, we have a couple of Australian companies and I really … they’re awesome people. The companies are really innovative. It’s really cool stuff. How do you manage the time difference?

Ashish Desai:

Oh man. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy. I think anyone that tells you that it’s easy is just not telling you the truth. But you know, we’ve invested a lot in various tools like we use Slack as everyone in the world apparently does.

Scott Orn:

We use it too.

Ashish Desai:

Or at least that’s what it seems like in the Valley. We use Slack. We use ten different varieties of video chatting. To be honest, like we still haven’t found one that like kills it but we do that. You know, a lot of communication. I travel a lot or not a lot but enough that we can like FaceTime is still …

Scott Orn:

I totally agree.

Ashish Desai:

Still like a very key component. I mean the good thing about Australia and the West Coast of the US is especially during our winter, their summer. We have a lot of overlap. We have probably from 2:00 PM our time to the end of the day.

Scott Orn:

Oh that’s awesome.

Ashish Desai:

So there’s a good like 4 or 5 hours. The problem is both of our daylight saving’s going the opposite directions. Like right now, it’s actually pretty rough because we only have like a couple of hours of overlap. So this is our rough time of the year but then the winter for us and the summer for them is a good time.

Scott Orn:

Do you find yourself like on 8:00 PM conference calls?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I mean I think like you know, and this is kind of as you get further along, you realize you need to delegate more but I mean when I first started, I was the only product person. Well, I was … everyone was a product person actually is the better way to say it when we started.

Scott Orn:

That’s a good mentality though. Like everyone had a piece of the pie.

Ashish Desai:

Oh yeah and I loved it. I actually … the reason that … another reason that I joined 99 was just like I loved it. Everyone was so passionate about the product. And so the reason they didn’t have a … like an official person as a product manager 5 years in or something like that was because everyone was doing it but then I think they got to a certain size where that can be challenging for decision-making purposes and things like that.

Scott Orn:

It’s a little too chaotic.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly.

Scott Orn:

And things aren’t prioritized correctly.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. So I came in and I was trying to do everything and then you know, just kind of classic as you get bigger you really need to realize you need to hire faster and delegate more. So now I mean you know, a long way of saying that I still obviously have those meetings but I just try and really have some strong people in Melbourne that I trust and then you know, we catch up but I don’t need to catch up with everyone. But that being said, I still … maybe I’m a workaholic. Maybe I love Slack but I’m still online late at night but not as much as I used to be and it’s not as much of a requirement as it is just me like trying to keep up-to-date on what’s going on.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. That’s good though. That’s probably what makes you successful. Also like if you really … I think this is something I try to talk about in the podcast and I feel in my heart like if you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work. You’re just like you’re building a legit big internet company and it’s kind of a part of your legacy. It’s like who you are as a person and you know, I’m sure your wife Kim who I’m friends with as well understands that, you know? And …

Ashish Desai:

Yeah I mean it’s hard to I mean yeah. I think if you’re that passionate about it, it’s part of your life. And so you want to make sure that things are going well and you stay online at night because you know like the time zone stuff is hard and if you’d miss something late at night, then that’s a whole another day wasted, right? And so like you got to figure out that balance and hopefully you have people that you trust and kind of live with their decisions but you know, sometimes you do kind of do that as well.

Scott Orn:

Also I find like stepping up and we’re in the client services business so it’s a little different. It’s like more about that. Like being available when the clients need you but like last night, I was answering a ton of emails. There’s a big financing going down that I’m working on and it’s like I’m not going to leave this management team like hanging and not answering their questions before Board call because I’m watching Deadwood. HBO Deadwood. Which I was. But you know, it’s like that’s …

Ashish Desai:

Why not do both?

Scott Orn:

Exactly. Do both. And it’s a personal obligation. You just want to help people. And I’m sure you feel like that with your engineering team in Australia. It’s like, these are your guys.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Absolutely. But that being said you know, as we got bigger, what we realized is what we really needed was smaller teams where we had a product manager, where we had a UX designer and we had 3 or 4 devs that were all colocated and could make those decisions quickly and not really rely on all that communication.

Scott Orn:

Top down. Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Exactly. What we’ve tried to do and obviously you know, it doesn’t always work but what we’ve tried to do is make those teams as self-sufficient as possible. They don’t need to check in. They don’t need to check every decision. And in that way, they can just keep moving and once in a while, we of course correct if something major changed but you know, for the most part, that’s been working. I think that was our biggest learning over the last couple of years.

Scott Orn:

It’s also like a way like I find like pushing authority down an organization wherever I’ve worked especially at Kruze Consulting, it’s like everyone has a real stake in it. No one wants to be told what to do all the time. It’s like come on.

Ashish Desai:

Absolutely.

Scott Orn:

Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

No exactly. I mean the challenges … I mean I think what you ideally want to do is just let everyone know the direction that you’re supposed to be going and then make sure that that’s super clear so that they can make the right decisions and honestly, that’s a lot harder than just telling people what to do. And I mean that’s a struggle that we’ve been having where it’s like I don’t want to tell you what to do but I also like, how do I make sure that you are clear on what decisions …

Scott Orn:

Our core values …

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. And articulating that in a way especially across the world. It is a lot easier in the office. You even notice people that you talk a lot with, you don’t have to do that with. But then if you don’t see them that much, and it’s amazing just like a couple of weeks will change everything.

Scott Orn:

Well, it’s also nice for you probably that Australia’s like one of the best places to visit in the world. So it probably doesn’t hurt too bad.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah it’s not bad. I mean I’ll be honest like I haven’t … I’ve enjoyed a little bit of it but …

Scott Orn:

[Inaudible 00:14:24] probably cranking right?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Well, it’s not even that. I have two small children. I feel guilty that I’m leaving my wife at home with them. So I kind of try and cut the trip as short as possible but hopefully, sometimes soon we can take the whole family over there. [Crosstalk 00:14:37]

Scott Orn:

Dude, I’m just a huge fan of 99designs and one of my favorite features which I think you’re probably going to remember this but is the like, there’s … so you basically run a contest if you’re doing the contest stuff and I’ve actually gotten away. I actually usually just hire a designer now. But …

Ashish Desai:

It’s okay to talk about contest.

Scott Orn:

No. No. No. I do. It’s actually … I found that it’s like just easier to go and hire someone immediately. Because I’m the kind of person who only reacts when I like have to do something and I’m not good at planning ahead and that kind of stuff. But so when Vanessa was doing the Kruze Consulting logo and all the color scheme and everything, she setup a 99designs contest. She ran it. She got all these … she got like a bunch of good submissions back and she put together a poll and the poll had like the top … her top 5 selections. So of course it’s a … she kind of tricked me a little bit. She’s like, she sent me the poll and I was like, oh I like this one which was not the correct answer. It wasn’t the one that she liked the best. In hindsight actually … and by the way, the cool thing is she showed me the voting. So she sent this to like 10 people and it shows you I have no taste because 8 out of the 10 people voted for her design. I voted for my design. Someone else voted for a random one. It was very clear which one was the best one. And so that’s actually to like this day, that’s Kruze Consulting’s logo. But I sent you a text. I was like joking around. I’m like, hey, you need to include like a marriage counselling button or something like that whenever you send those poll out because like do you find that? Like when people get heated? What kind of feedback do you get on the polling stuff?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I mean not necessarily about the polling per se but I think it’s what makes this business actually quite challenging like relative to a lot of marketplaces. It’s super subjective. And so like our whole you know, we’re very much focused on driving quality up. That’s like our big tenet. We’re not trying to compete on price. Like we’re not the cheapest option out there, right? And we don’t want to be. We want to find that balance between like high quality but affordable. And so a lot of what we’re trying to do is like okay, how do we figure out what high quality means and we’ve done various analysis and we look at … and the problem is, it’s so subjective and like …

Scott Orn:

If you’re trying to benchmark “quality”, what does that look like?

Ashish Desai:

And there’s like kind of a philosophical question if you will that’s like most of the people in the office, we see so many designs that I think we know and we probably be relatively aligned on what we think quality is. But most clients … not most clients but at least a good percentage of those clients might have a very different perception of that and so if they walk away really happy with the design that they have even if that’s not what we think is good quality, like is that good or bad? And to be honest, this is a debate we’ve had in our company forever.

Scott Orn:

It’s kind of like do people like McDonald’s or do people like a $20 hamburger at some fancy joint? It’s like there’s different people like different things, you know?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. And who’s to say, right? But I mean you know …

Scott Orn:

There’s probably some absolutes in design and things like that.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. And that’s why we try and strike that balance. But it’s really challenging. And you know, we try and use data to help us but frankly it’s like yeah, you know, other designers will like a particular design and like clients think those designs are crazy and terrible. I think you and I are … maybe not you because you apparently have terrible taste but I would be like, wow. That’s a cool, esoteric Oakland design.

Scott Orn:

Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

But you know, that’s not necessarily. And so like it’s a lot about matching to the brief. Like what do they say they wanted? Did that match? And that kind of thing. You know, it’s challenging.

Scott Orn:

I hope this doesn’t come across as like a gross stereotype here but I’ve seen in the past like examples of like some of the websites like the massive websites in Asia like the big players and their color schemes are different and they’re like brighter and they’re different and then you look at like Amazon or Google, they’re like, there’s two totally different worlds there. It’s like there actually is like a cultural aspect to this.

Ashish Desai:

Oh absolutely. I mean like you know, a whole another aspect of what we’ve done on you know, like our entire platform has been very international from day one. And our designer community especially.

Scott Orn:

Well it’s a great way for designers based somewhere else to access like the US business market? It’s like you know …

Ashish Desai:

Not only that. I mean you know, even designers in Ohio or you know, like Idaho. Like just places where clients aren’t …

Scott Orn:

You can make a good career on 99designs.

Ashish Desai:

Absolutely. But clients aren’t readily available to everyone. Like obviously, there is some negativity around what we do.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. Maybe someone doesn’t want to pay $20 for a hamburger. So they want to live in the Midwest but do great design and you know, they can live the life they want to live out there but still be connected to all the startups out in Silicon Valley who are willing to pay.

Ashish Desai:

How do you do business development? I mean it’s an amazing business development tool in my opinion.

Scott Orn:

Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

But anyway, so but getting back to your original question about different cultures, like we actually and we just took around a funding from Recruit which is a large player in Japan. And …

Scott Orn:

Congratulations. Did you get a raise off that?

Ashish Desai:

I don’t know. One of these days.

Scott Orn:

Maybe you should be asking that question.

Ashish Desai:

Do I get paid in the end? Or I don’t know how that works. But no.

Scott Orn:

They’re like, Ashish, this doesn’t change our burn rate. We’re not giving raises out.

Ashish Desai:

They’ve been helping us and it’s been absolutely amazing because they’ve been putting their resources into it but they’ve been helping us with some you know, new landing pages for people in Japan. And just coming back to your question, like the cultural difference right? Like we’ve done international but for the most part, our international has been like translating the English which we always kind of knew was suboptimal but it was working okay and like, or it works reasonably well in like the Western Europe areas and some of the areas where the culture might be relatively similar. But like in Japan, they just showed us this landing page where we’re like, what is going on?

Scott Orn:

Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

But it was you know, it was amazing and it performed really well. And so you’re like, okay cool. Like we don’t understand this culture at all. And so I think like as you … just going back to that question, like as you’re going international, you really have to think about the local dynamics and you can’t assume that what’s working here will work the same way.

Scott Orn:

That’s amazing though because you could triple your conversion or something like that and like all of a sudden, Japan or whatever region could be one of your bigger markets overnight. Just because you weren’t marketing to them correctly.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I mean like you know, we … I think it’s in 2012.

Scott Orn:

The cool thing about your business model too is like the more people are consuming in a given market, better chance designers will hear about 99designs. It’s one of the reasons I like your business model a lot is like it’s like its own lead generation. You’re bringing people on the platform, they tell their friends. They get more work. More work.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah exactly. You know, the majority of our … both of our sides of our marketplace and even more so on the designer side is word of mouth. Like it’s still word of mouth. We obviously try to amp it up with other channels but ultimately it’s still and you can see that penetration. Like just randomly countries will suddenly …

Scott Orn:

That’s awesome.

Ashish Desai:

Appear especially on the designer side right? Like you know just be like oh my god. We apparently had some kind of news show or something on some international channel in Indonesia. One day I was just looking at the data. So I’m actually kind of in charge of analytics as well and I was just … I was like wow, we got a humongous spike on Indonesian designers on like this particular day. What in the world happened? And we finally traced it down to like, we were on like National TV. And it was amazing. So yeah. There’s all kinds of interesting dynamics when you go so international. I mean I learned about countries I’ve never heard of. I’m like, what’s this country code?

Scott Orn:

They don’t use that on public schools in the United States.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Exactly. I barely know how to get out of California.

Scott Orn:

So what’s the next year or so, what are you guys working on? I understand you may have to keep some stuff confidential but like what’s the cool stuff you’re excited about at work?

Ashish Desai:

You know, I’m just excited about quality. I mean it sounds kind of stupid. Not stupid but it’s …

Scott Orn:

That’s like … I go in the site like 2 or 3 times a year to hire someone and that actually is my biggest thing. I know I can find someone good there.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. And look, and it’s still something that we need to keep working on right? Like a contest by definition in crowdsourcing to a large extent has a lot of bad designers. Let’s just be honest. That does happen. But what we’re trying to do is use a lot of data like we …

Scott Orn:

Do you coach them up? What do you do?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah so we have a …

Scott Orn:

You could give them feedback.

Ashish Desai:

Oh absolutely. So there’s a variety of things right? There’s some people that are on there that are just like trying to spam and scam right? And so for those people, we’re being really smart about … I mean like just working a lot harder to validate identities and ban them and that kind of thing. And then, you know, the rest of it, for the most part I think these people are trying to make good living and so we do a lot of education and we’re trying to engage more of our top designers and how they can help and then also using the data to find people that like have potential and move them up faster.

Scott Orn:

That’s smart.

Ashish Desai:

And you know, it’s challenging. And like for all the reasons that I talk about earlier, like how do you identify good quality and like something that you know, is kind of crazy and you know when I first started, I was like, how can we scale this? And the truth is, we can’t scale it. But we actually have someone … we have a few people who actually review every single designer that comes through. Like we don’t get to everyone all the time but we are just constantly looking at people, rating them, trying to understand where they’re at and then like move them up. And we’re trying to … a lot of what we’re doing is building the efficiencies around that.

Scott Orn:

Have you guys ever done like any videos to like teach the designers? Like I could see if you scored them and then you could … oh you’ve achieved level 3 now and you should watch these three videos because this is …

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

These are best practices.

Ashish Desai:

So what we did probably 3 to 4 years ago is we decided that like we need to just dedicate support and education on both sides, right? So we actually had …

Scott Orn:

So you’re building liquidity in the marketplace?

Ashish Desai:

Yes. So we have a team that’s just focused on like we call them our community team is just focused on kind of education. How do you get you know, our top designers happy? Make sure that they’re earning the money that they should be earning. How can we get more people working fulltime and showing that and then you know, recruiting others? But then also on the people that are learning, how do we get them up the food chain? And then on the flipside is all the support and all the things, their you know, payments are a huge thing. We’re serving a 160 some countries and trying to pay them all out and so making sure that that’s efficient.

Scott Orn:

That’s super complicated, right?

Ashish Desai:

These are all those challenges right?

Scott Orn:

You have like probably some crazy escrow agreements and things like that.

Ashish Desai:

I mean to be honest like …

Scott Orn:

Internal payment stuff.

Ashish Desai:

People that are just focused on that because like I am not an expert but you know, just figuring out, how can we get them paid faster, better, more lively?

Scott Orn:

Less of a currency exchange hit. Like that’s a big issue.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. Those are huge issues, right? So I think that’s where we add a ton of value. And of course we’re doing a lot of other things. But like ultimately, it’s about like just making that core product a lot better. Having more ways to connect. Making the whole thing more efficient. So like I think that’s the biggest … like if I were to say and you even mentioned it a little bit when you were talking about running a contest. You’re like, I got to think ahead and plan some time, et cetera. Like we need to make the whole thing more efficient and you know, I think we’ve done an OK job but we’ll continue to …

Scott Orn:

People respond really quick though. It’s more like … actually maybe a lot of people are like me. Because they kind of react to everything. Because design’s not like my core … I don’t really know what I’m doing. So I just need someone to make … like I’m the classic, hey can you make this look better? These are my rudimentary …

Ashish Desai:

Can you make it pop?

Scott Orn:

Yeah. This are my rudimentary … yeah exactly. My rudimentary PowerPoint skills or whatever. Make it look good.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. And that’s totally fine. And that’s fair. And look, like I’m super proud of our product but I think there’s a lot more that we can do and frankly as a product person, every product person, you have like all of the things and the vision that you think it’s going to be eventually and the thing you have to just keep to yourself is like patience. Like we’re working our way towards that. And we’ll get there, right? But yeah like I mean we’re just keeping on that and there’s things that who knows like all kinds of little features here and there but like ultimately, like what I’m just excited about is just being able to serve bigger and bigger markets. Every time I hear that someone’s used us, when you send me that text, it’s like great. This is awesome. And the next question is always like, what are all the things that you hated? Because I just want to like … I want to fix them.

Scott Orn:

You’re like a masochist.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly.

Scott Orn:

Tell me what you hate.

Ashish Desai:

Apparently that is a bit of an Australian like thing that I’ve picked up which is like, they hate [inaudible 00:27:48]. Not to generalize here.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. They’re very modest people. Very modest.

Ashish Desai:

Much more modest. Much more self-critical which is awesome because I mean it’s awesome most of the time. It can be a little demoralizing but we’re working on that. But for the most part, it’s awesome because you’re constantly thinking about like okay, what can we keep doing to make this better? Like even things that are clear wins. We’re like, cool but that could’ve been better. So how do we do that?

Scott Orn:

Yeah. So switching gears a little bit, you’re maybe one of the largest Duke University fans I’ve ever met to the point where I actually … if Duke’s basketball’s on TV, I will turn on Facebook just to see your remarks. How did it feel to win the championship last year? That’s like winning the Super Bowl for a normal person.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Yeah. I was like, could I come up with the dickish like Duke answer? Which is like I knew that would happen. It’s expected. No it was awesome. I mean this team, it was an incredible team. It was a team that I think in January you can look at my Facebook history. I think I did say that you know, if Justise Winslow can play well, we can beat Kentucky and we weren’t able to beat Kentucky because we didn’t play them but I still fundamentally believe if we played them for the championship which would’ve been an epic championship, we would’ve won.

Scott Orn:

I was very happy for you. Let me ask you this, what makes people hate Duke Basketball? Because they’re like kind of the New York Yankees. They’re like the Microsoft or whatever that like you know, the thing that everyone hates. That’s kind of who they are.

Ashish Desai:

I don’t know. I mean …

Scott Orn:

But I should say, the insider is the people who are like that’s our team. Love them unconditionally.

Ashish Desai:

Right. I mean I think there’s a bunch of dynamics happening, right? Like so there’s one, it’s not a school … it’s kind of a weird school in that like it sits in North Carolina but clearly that anyone that doesn’t go to Duke is a Carolina or a State fan, right?

Scott Orn:

Okay.

Ashish Desai:

And they’re all like right there, right?

Scott Orn:

Yeah. Those are the populous. Those are like UNC and NC State.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. And those are the state schools that are both historically great at basketball that wasn’t the dig … that wasn’t the dig. I’m not going to kick a horse while it’s down. But anyway, but you know, so there’s no actual regional base that’s really popular. Like you know, a lot of …

Scott Orn:

It’s a national program.

Ashish Desai:

It’s a national program. It’s also like because you’re in Durham, you went to this school and then you have all this [inaudible 00:30:17] against you, you actually get even stronger and more into it. Right? And so like you kind of … you pull that out and because there’s no regional base, you feel like you have to really push it. And then frankly like they win a lot. Nobody likes that. At the end of the day, nobody likes that, right?

Scott Orn:

No one likes them stealing the recruits from California.

Ashish Desai:

Exactly. And then I mean you know, it is amazing like I don’t know, like I highly recommend watching the 30 for 30: I hate Christian Laettner. Just about like you know, this perception that these like white affluent people are coming in. I mean Christian Laettner grew up in like he’s not white … I mean he’s not preppy or affluent. Bobby Hurley grew up in like Jersey and like you know, I mean his Dad is like one of the most well-known …

Scott Orn:

There’s some stereotypes happening.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. There’s stereotypes but like they played into them and it worked out well and you know, [inaudible 00:31:12] happening around the same time and then it just formed a great like these are the white affluent annoying terrible players. When in reality it’s like, that’s not really actually true. And like you know, there’s only one white player on that Duke team right now or has been in the last 5 years. But like you know, these things just stay. Like all the things …

Scott Orn:

It’s almost like the color of the jersey is like a very … yeah. That’s kind of why I enjoy watching your Facebook comments because like people are commenting back to you. It’s just fun.

Ashish Desai:

It’s fun. I mean to be honest, it’s fun to play the villain.

Scott Orn:

I hope someday that 99designs is so successful. They’re like the Duke of the internet. Like oh those 99designs guys are so good.

Ashish Desai:

I can’t wait.

Scott Orn:

You probably own a quarter of Oakland at that point though. Well dude, this is awesome. So let me … I want to wrap it up with a couple of … I started doing this on the last podcast with Dan Croak at Thoughtbot. So I like to ask a few kind of quick questions. Not long answers.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

Okay. So what’s your favorite content site? Like what site do you read during the day when you got a 10-minute break?

Ashish Desai:

Oh man. You didn’t prep me with that question. Did you change it up? Let’s see. Favorite, I mean I’m going to be boring with probably all these answers. I’ll just go with ESPN. It kind of gets me awake.

Scott Orn:

[Inaudible 00:32:26] or ESPN?

Ashish Desai:

I’ll go ESPN. I’ll link over to the … I don’t have time for [inaudible 00:32:33]. I mean I like those for the evening but ultimately yeah. I need a little break from the day. [Crosstalk 00:32:40]

Scott Orn:

You can see like who Duke’s recruiting or something like that.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I do check that out.

Scott Orn:

What e-commerce site do you frequent the most?

Ashish Desai:

I mean …

Scott Orn:

What do you buy? What site do you buy stuff?

Ashish Desai:

I don’t know how anyone could not answer Amazon, right?

Scott Orn:

That’s like the obvious one.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

This is more of a discovery question. What’s something cool like …

Ashish Desai:

I don’t discover. That’s unfortunately not. I don’t know.

Scott Orn:

There’s probably some like really hipster website you’re going to figure out when you …

Ashish Desai:

Yeah potentially yeah. Exactly. I don’t know. I mean I just think, how can you beat a place that literally has everything? I mean besides the fact that you know, their drones run on like the employees’ tears or whatever. Like from a …

Scott Orn:

You’re referring to the recent article in the New York Times?

Ashish Desai:

I am. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s amazing. Like I know these companies …

Scott Orn:

It’s just a new Walmart a little bit.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

People bash them but then people really like the service.

Ashish Desai:

I mean I have a small anecdote. I know this is supposed to be short answer but like I … my son Alex, he’s four, he’s starting soccer. He needed cleats and his like Soccer game was like Sunday morning or like his practice or whatever. It was Sunday morning. And it was Friday night and I was like, oh man. I was going to buy him cleats. I totally forgot. I don’t have enough time to get it on Amazon. And my wife is like, we can like go to Sports Basement or something tomorrow. But I just like literally had not even thought about that. I was like the idea that like you could go to a store, I mean like how crazy … I don’t know. I mean maybe I’m crazy and I’m stupid but like … but just the idea that I like forgot that there are stores that you could go to is like weird.

Scott Orn:

That is crazy. But you know, they have like a 24-hour delivery now. It works.

Ashish Desai:

I mean all of these things. Like it works. I feel guilty you know, the employees hate it but whatever.

Scott Orn:

I think I know some people work there. They actually really like it. So I’m not going to … I think there’s maybe some selective …

Ashish Desai:

I’m sure. I’m sure. I mean it’s all a mixture and like you know, frankly …

Scott Orn:

Hey if you don’t like it, I mean not everyone can go work somewhere else but there’s a good portion of their employee base that could go …

Ashish Desai:

It’s more yeah. It’s a challenging issue.

Scott Orn:

Yeah.

Ashish Desai:

And I think it’s more of an American workforce issue than Amazon specifically.

Scott Orn:

Alright. Next question.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah.

Scott Orn:

What’s your favorite Spotify playlist?

Ashish Desai:

Alright. So since we’re now in Oakland, I’m going to switch it up to Pandora.

Scott Orn:

Wow.

Ashish Desai:

For our neighbors.

Scott Orn:

In case you don’t know, Pandora’s based in Oakland. They’re like one of the first big companies over there. So kudos to Pandora.

Ashish Desai:

They are in Anchor and we are right next to them actually. So I love the De La Soul and I won’t take credit for it.

Scott Orn:

That’s old school.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. I won’t take credit for it. I was in a bar and I was just like … all night I was just chatting with someone and I was like, holy shit. This music is great. And I was like, this has to be some kind of playlist.

Scott Orn:

Like some DJ.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. This can’t be … so I went and I asked the bartender and they’re like, De La Soul, Pandora.

Scott Orn:

Wow.

Ashish Desai:

Don’t like anything. I’ve learned that by the way. I constantly listen to like the 90’s hip hop on like all the various options and I like to view too many Boyz II Men songs.

Scott Orn:

How can you not?

Ashish Desai:

Yeah exactly. And then my whole like playlist turned into like a 7th grade dance. I was like okay. I totally screwed this up.

Scott Orn:

Reset. Reset. Alright. So De La Soul on Pandora. Last question, this is kind of a little cheesy but like, what company do you admire? Like you look out there and you’re like oh, you know, they’re doing it right.

Ashish Desai:

Wow. That is an excellent question to be honest. I feel like I have kind of … oh actually I know exactly the answer. Tesla. Or actually any of Elon Musk’s companies.

Scott Orn:

He is amazing.

Ashish Desai:

I think he’s an amazing guy. So look, I mean I’m sure there’s some of this balance as well but like I feel like a lot of these companies now, Amazon, Uber, whatever that are like providing amazing products and amazing customer experience.

Scott Orn:

They’re making all of our life so much better. Crazy.

Ashish Desai:

Which is awesome but then you do feel guilty about like some of the things you hear that’s going on behind the scenes or whatever. Whereas I don’t know, there’s something just about Elon, the stuff he’s doing that just resonates with me. Plus it’s like science. And that resonates with the engineer in me that still …

Scott Orn:

People don’t know but you worked at Agilent before. Like a really hard-core science job before you went to business school.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah. Every once in a while I miss that. I do miss the science. And so I think …

Scott Orn:

And I’d just say also, I own stock in Tesla so I’m totally biased but like that company like they’re a car company but yet they’re revolutionizing like California’s energy market with their batteries. I think what you’re saying when you talk about science is like they’re pushing the laws of physics, right? Like these batteries are like I’ve looked at like 1,000 battery company startups that never work. They never ever work. And yet somehow like Tesla’s figuring this out. These batteries are going to be in all of our houses.

Ashish Desai:

It’s amazing and I mean look, I’m not an expert in this area at all but just like seeing … I’ve seen you know, graphs of predictions from just 2 years ago on how efficient batteries are going to be in like 10, 20 years. And they’re going to half that. And that’s amazing. And so that’s just like … it’s just … he goes back to first principles. He questions everything. And like look, I mean I’m sure there’s some … under the hood there’s probably some issues but like whatever. I think it’s amazing.

Scott Orn:

I mean people like that push us all forward really quickly. And also like the crazy thing is, he found the SolarCity. So he’s got this like very vertical integrated … he’s like okay, we got the panels on the houses. We store the energy.

Ashish Desai:

He’s an evil genius.

Scott Orn:

We know he’s been thinking about that for like 10 years and it’s like, wait a second, my car company makes batteries that could hold these solar …

Ashish Desai:

And you can buy them on PayPal.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. That’s crazy. Oh my god.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah I mean he’s yeah. Incredible.

Scott Orn:

Whenever you find people like that, you should just invest in them as soon as possible. I was stupid and let them go public before I did it. That’s why I’m not living in a …

Ashish Desai:

Did you pass on that deal?

Scott Orn:

No. I was never offered that deal. That was … I don’t know where. I was probably in business school with you. Well dude, thanks for coming on. So maybe give every … just give the audience like a little like where they can find 99designs, where they can find you.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah for sure. 99designs.com. Nice and easy. Yeah. Come to us if you need any kind of graphic design needs. We do a lot more than what you may have heard. Check us out if you need a designer, you need a design, et cetera. I am not very popular but if you want to start following me …

Scott Orn:

Only during basketball season. Only during basketball season he’s outspoken.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah exactly. So if you’re interested in like you know, having some Duke hate or … I’m happy to oblige. @ashishd on Twitter. You’ll join the 100 followers that I have. Some of which are porn bots.

Scott Orn:

Your social media czar.

Ashish Desai:

I am.

Scott Orn:

Well dude, thanks for coming on. Awesome time. And I mean I love the site and I use it all the time. That’s why I want to have you on. So you’re doing good work. Tell the team you’re doing good … tell them they’re doing good work and I look forward the next time I can hire designer at 99designs.

Ashish Desai:

Alright. Well that means a lot to me and you’re doing good work and I’m looking forward to your interview.

Scott Orn:

Yeah. Ashish offered interviewing me. So we’ll roll that back some time.

Ashish Desai:

Yeah I think we should.

Scott Orn:

Awesome. Alright man. Thanks for coming by.

Ashish Desai:

Alright. Bye.

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